More on the story about which I wrote Friday, the firing of Tippi McCullough by Mount St. Mary Catholic school in Little Rock on the day of her marriage to Barb Mariani:
For The New Civil Rights Movement, David Badash reports on the story, noting that Mount St. Mary principal Diane Wolfe has responded to a student raising critical questions about her actions in this case by saying,
This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger. Perhaps you would be more informed to direct your opinions to the Catholic church. Do you honestly think a lowly high school principal of 531 girls would take this kind of monumental action on a whim or based on my "conservative views?" . . . Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church and the directives of those responsible for giving oversight to those tenets? I urge you to quit being so naive to think this was solely my decision and solely my action.
Badash's article links to a petition at ipetitions in support of McCullough.
At New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog, Bob Shine also links to the preceding petition, and writes,
Sadly, the views expressed by Wolfe indicate not moral courage, but rather a fear too prevalent in Catholic schools when it comes to LGBT issues. Bishops and administrators who are publicly challenged on firings claim it is painful, but necessary and the hierarchy asks lower administrators to enforce this legalism. The pain in Wolfe’s defensive tone is evident.
At the Human Rights Campaign's blog site, HRC director (and Arkansas native) Chad Griffin notes yesterday that he is heading to Arkansas to offer support to McCullough and Mariani. He states,
As an educational institution and one of deep faith, Mount St. Mary should be setting an example of tolerance and acceptance – ideals put forward recently by Pope Francis as he urges the Catholic Church hierarchy to put aside judgment of LGBT people.
Now, HRC is calling on Mount St. Mary’s students, teachers, donors, and community members to speak out against this injustice. And I’m literally driving that message home.
Chad Griffin's posting links to a separate petition that HRC has set up to support McCullough.
Meanwhile, for National Catholic Reporter, Brian Roewe reports on the other story that I mentioned in my account of what's happening at Mount St. Mary to which the first link above points--the cancellation of a fundraiser that had been planned yesterday to offer support to former Mount St. Mary guidance counselor and dean of discipline, Kathy Griffin, who was convicted in September of having failed to report her knowledge of a sexual relationship between a student at the school and teacher Kelly Ann O'Rourke. As Roewe notes, Griffin and O'Rourke themselves have had a relationship, and have lived together at various times.
My thoughts about the argument that Principal Wolfe offers in response to those asking critical questions about her decision: I'd like to reply by asking Principal Wolfe my own question. My question: in what way does your defense of your actions differ from the defense offered by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials?
I did what my superiors told me to do. I was only following orders. I was just the bottom link in a chain of command. Why are you blaming me? Blame those who gave the orders.
It concerns me--it concerns me greatly--that these predictable defenses of indefensible behavior are repeatedly offered by people in positions of authority in Catholic institutions, when they do atrociously cruel or immoral things to employees in the name of Catholic teaching and on grounds of obedience. It bothers me that Catholic religious routinely offer defenses like this for their indefensible behavior.
I have heard almost the same words that Diane Wolfe is now uttering come out of the mouth of one of the Sisters of Mercy who own Mount St. Mary Academy. I recall very clearly several years ago having a conversation with one of the Sisters of Mercy who live at this school in which she said to me, "I find the vow of obedience so freeing. It means I don't have to decide for myself. I do what I'm told, and the problem of figuring out the rights and wrongs of the behavior then belongs to the superior."
I was deeply troubled by that formulation of the vow of obedience when I heard the Sister of Mercy in question utter those words. I am even more troubled when I now hear a version of them coming out of the mouth of the principal of the school that fired Tippi McCullough on her wedding day. When the Sister of Mercy with whom I was discussing the vow of obedience made her statement to me, I immediately thought, "Haven't I heard those words before? In accounts of the Nuremberg trials?"
I now think that same thought all over again, a fortiori, as I read what has just happened at Mount St. Mary.
In their operation of their institutions, Catholic religious often want to appear to be on the side of the angels when they are decidedly not on the angelic side. They want the reputation for being people of mercy and peace when their behavior is actually about ripping up the lives of others and behaving in the most unmerciful way possible.
They want to be positioned to blame someone else--the men at the top ladders of ecclesiastical command--for decisions in which they have complicity through their vow of unquestioning obedience. And this is simply not good enough by a long shot, morally speaking. I lay the blame for what has just taken place at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock not merely at the feet of diocesan officials--those Principal Wolfe wants to blame.
I lay the blame also at the feet of the Sisters of Mercy, who have, it seems to me, succeeded in making Principal Wolfe think precisely the way I know from the conversation I report above that some of the Sisters of Mercy themselves think about the virtue of obedience. The moral life is not for automatons who obey implicitly and without question any command given to them. This is the antithesis of moral behavior. This notion of the moral life radically dehumanizes the human being who is called to be a moral agent.
One other thought: in the comments following the discussion of this story on Friday, several readers expressed concern about the fact that "the diocese" is said to have had knowledge of McCullough's marriage to Mariani prior to the marriage, though it occurred in New Mexico and not Arkansas. Readers suggest many plausible ways in which "the diocese" might have known of this wedding: from colleagues of McCullough at the school, from family members, from notices in the newspaper, or from online data made public by the state, to which, as Mike McShea says, "the old proverbial local church snitch now has access."
And these valuable suggestions bring to mind a discussion we had here this past May, about the way in which "the old proverbial local church snitch" now seems to be scouring even obituaries and other newspaper items to find damning evidence that the gays have gotten into this Catholic school or that one. A discussion that raised some serious questions about what sort of community the American Catholic community is turning itself into, when its institutions increasingly appear to rely on unsavory spy networks rifling through even obituaries to find damning information about gay employees of Catholic institutions . . . .
The source for the photo is provided in the first link above.